Open for visitors: Boston Public Library completes renovation of its Special Collections Department

BOSTON — A five-year effort to renovate an incredible collection of rare books, manuscripts, music, fine arts, photographer, and more is now complete at the Boston Public Library and back open to the public.

$15.7 million of city funds were spent enhancing the Central Library’s Special Collections Department, which houses notable items including a copy of William Shakespeare’s First Folio; Robert McCloskey’s sketchbooks, including his preliminary drawings for Make Way for Ducklings; four original printings of the Declaration of Independence; the complete run of the abolitionist paper The Liberator; 350 works by famed artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec; the Robert Aitken Bible, and the first complete English-language Bible printed in America.

“We are so lucky to have historic books and manuscripts on display at the Boston Public Library, and with that comes a responsibility to take care of these works and make them easily accessible,” said Boston Mayor Michelle Wu who toured the collection on Tuesday.

“I’m thankful to the BPL and all who made restoration of the Special Collections possible for future generations of Boston residents to enjoy,” said Wu.

The BPL says the 31,000 square-foot renovation includes improvements to public spaces, including a new reading room and lobby and upgraded collections storage for rare books and manuscript collections totaling nearly 7 miles of specialized shelving.

“The improvements will ensure the long-term preservation of – and continued public access to – the library’s exceptional and historic collections,” according to a statement from the BPL.

“We are thrilled to welcome visitors into the newly renovated Special Collections spaces,” said Beth Prindle, BPL’s Head of Special Collections. “As one of only two public members of the Association of Research Libraries, the BPL has a particular responsibility to providing the broadest possible access to these rare, distinctive, and culturally significant materials.”

Anyone who wants to visit and engage with items in the collection can create a reading room account at readingroom.bpl.org and use the request page to request materials at their preferred date and time. 

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